Saluting Marie Van Brittan Brown – The Black Female Inventor of CCTV
Black History Month in the United Kingdom is celebrated during the month of October, serving as a significant occasion to acknowledge, commemorate, and celebrate the contributions of the African and African-Caribbean communities to British society. It provides a platform to educate the public about the profound impact these communities have had in shaping the nation’s culture, politics, arts, and sports and more. It also serves as an opportunity to shed light on the historical and ongoing discrimination faced by Black communities in the UK.
This year’s theme, ‘Saluting our Sisters’ celebrates the often overlooked and invaluable contributions to the nation’s history, culture, and social progress, that Black women have made. Black women have played a significant role in shaping modern Britain, and society at large and deserve recognition for their resilience, leadership, and achievements.
This month we salute one such sister, the inspirational Marie Van Brittan Brown, who invented the first closed-circuit television (CCTV) security system and revolutionised how we have come to understand home security and the matter of surveillance technology.
Brown was born in 1922 in Jamaica, Queens, New York, the area named as such, given its colonisation by the British, with the area being originally inhabited by the Jameco Indians (also referred to as the Yamecah tribe).
Brown developed the system out of a fear of being vulnerable and unsafe in her neighbourhood, which was seeing high levels of crime. Further, it was in response to seeing her husband, Albert Brown, who worked as an electronic technician, returning home often late at night, that she conceived an idea which would tackle her fears. Having to answer the door without being able to see who was on the other side, prompted her design (with the assistance of her husband), to utilise four peep-holes, a camera which could slide up and down, monitors and two-way microphones. This security system invented in 1966, would be known as what we now call today, a ‘closed-circuit television system’, CCTV.
In 1969 Brown and her husband patented the invention in the U.S. and were later recognised for their work, receiving the award from the National Scientists Committee. Brown’s legacy would start off within the domestic space, but due to its effectiveness, many businesses, began to adopt her system, citing the work in their patents.
From Government cameras, business cameras, Private Installation cameras and Wireless or Doorbell Cameras, which make up the four major types of CCTV camera systems deployed in the UK, we can be thankful to Marie Van Brittan Brown, for a massive industry, with huge potential, that continues to grow. 50 years later, a report conducted by according the industry research body IBISWorld in 2022, estimated the market size, measured by revenue, of the Security System Services industry was £1.3bn, with a growth rate of 7%.
So, the next time you are observing CCTV, remember it’s origin roots and that despite the gender imbalance of a predominantly male security industry, there was this woman, a black female inventor, who is credited with keeping all of us safe.